In the first installment of our Halloween in the Time of Coronavirus series, Shadow Space creator Shelby Bond discusses the switch from his immersive theatre production to an online interactive experience
What a difference a year makes! Twelve months ago, Hollywood Gothique predicted that immersive theatre was the future of Halloween in Los Angeles. Since then a global pandemic has shut down much of the country, and even while many businesses at least partially reopen, the intimate nature of interactive drama is a deal-breaker - there is no way of maintaining social distance when the entire point is to erase the gap between actors and audience.
One victim fighting back against this plague on the arts is Shelby Bond, whose 2019 production of The Shadow Space cast the audience as ghosts eavesdropping on a murder mystery. The plan was to launch an annual anthology, telling a new story using the premise of the audience invisibly observing the actors. Unfortunately, Covid-19 put the Halloween 2020 iteration on hold, and Bond switched to offering an online interactive experience instead.
The Mind's Eye is a sort of Zoom meeting transformed into an interactive game, in which participants create their own personas and take part in a story guided by Bond as a sort of master of ceremonies. The hour-long experience is a combination of scavenger hunt, quiz, and role-playing adventure. In September, participants vacationed in the Scottish highlands, accidentally travelled back in time travel, and barely escaped being burned as witches. October will offer a horror-themed plotline entitled Reign of Darkness.
Hollywood Gothique interviewed Bond via email about the transition from in-person to online experience and the hypothetical possibility of conducting interactive theatre during a pandemic. The text has been slightly condensed.
Hollywood Gothique: Did you consider putting on a revised version of SHADOW SPACE this year?
Shelby Bond: The second production of The Shadow Space, the immersive experiential show I designed, was ready-to-go. The venue was confirmed and the show was ready to be cast when COVID hit. It was an entirely new story around the same premise of the audience "haunting" a living family.
Hollywood Gothique: What were the major impediments that the pandemic caused for your event specifically?
Shelby Bond: With this being an indoor event, we were worried about exposure to the virus. Because of the audience being non-corporeal, they are very regulated as to what they can and can't touch; however, unlike a play where people can social distance, the actors and participants would be in very close proximity.
Hollywood Gothique: What changes did you implement, and why did they not work out?
Shelby Bond: Initially, we pushed the production back two months, thinking things would go back to normal. When they didn't, we began to add more safety precautions to the event: masks, temperature check, touchless interaction, etc.
In July, I posted the safety measures we would implement for an October run. Feedback from friends and fans was that the measures were inadequate, and the run had to be completely cancelled.
Hollywood Gothique: How did you switch from SHADOW SPACE to MIND'S EYE?
Shelby Bond: I was hugely discouraged that a show with the kind of traction as The Shadow Space could no longer be mounted. I attended many online shows - stand up, live game shows, storytelling, improv - and they all left me feeling like an observer, not a participant. I work in immersive theatre because I want to create an experience, not just more passive spectatorship.
I created Mind's Eye with the intent of creating an interactive, playable narrative. How does a performance connect to an audience through a screen? The first step was to bring physical elements into the event and make the guests interact in a visceral way. Just look at kids doing Zoom-school and you'll see the only time many are engaged is when they are moving, when they are active, or when they are required to interact and not just listen. Watching my five year old godson was a huge help in creating these shows, as was my many years of RPGs, being a part of a story, not just listening to it being told.
Shelby Bond: So far, Mind's Eye has been a hit. I almost expected to end up doing a thousand kid parties but, luckily the response for adult events has been great as people have been hanging with their friends online anyway, and this gives them a fun way to have a journey and a drink that is much more memorable than a hang out. People keep asking for more themes, and I'm happy to provide new worlds.
Hollywood Gothique: Care to tease us with a few details about the scary Halloween edition?
Shelby Bond: My upcoming horror experience, "Reign of Darkness" will be the most macabre event I've ever created and strictly 18+. Attendees will become engulfed in the dark magic of a cursed town. They will encounter bloodshed and possession and their choices and luck will determine if they survive the experience.
Hollywood Gothique: Is there a hypothetical way to make interactive theatre work while maintaining safety precautions? Maybe a toxic spill scenario with everyone wearing hazmat suits?
Shelby Bond: That’s a big question. How will we feel the true intimacy of a live, in-person experience while staying safe and distanced? I love your idea of hazmat suits, but that might require everyone to own their own suit, or the sanitizing would be too time consuming and costly. I'm intrigued by what is happening with drive-through events, but will there still be a sense of interactivity? What makes immersive shows so exciting is that they are visceral, not just safe spectatorship.
The Halloween edition of Mind's Eye - Reign of Darkness - will take place on October 10. The hour-long experience costs $100 for a group of up to10 people and $150 for 11-20. You can book an event here: adventure-party.com.
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